Friday, June 8, 2012

A tale of two seaside towns

Most of life’s lessons I learned by the sea.

Living along the Sakonnet River, an inlet that stretches to the Atlantic, I measure my days by its currents.

Every summer I reread “The Country of the Pointed Firs” by Sarah Orne Jewett, a story about an unnamed sojourner who relates a series of episodes taking place in a seaside town.

It speaks to me because Dunnet Landing resembles my home port of Tiverton and fires my imagination urging me to tell our tale.

“After a first brief visit made two or three summers before …, a lover of Dunnet Landing returned to find the unchanged shores of the pointed firs, the same quaintness of the village with its elaborate conventionalities; all that mixture of remoteness, and childish certainty of being the center of civilization of which her affectionate dreams had told,” Jewett wrote.

Returning to the summer house each season, I rejoice in coming home to our sanctuary by the sea. Surrounded by the Sakonnet on three sides, the tiny peninsula is populated with cottages and carefully tended gardens brimming with colorful flowers. Beach roses adorn the shoreline, and the water beyond beckons, encouraging us to walk along its contours or sit a spell on a boulder strategically placed for this purpose.

“For various reasons, the seclusion and uninterrupted days which had been looked forward to prove to be otherwise in this delightful corner of the world,” Jewett wrote.

Seeking solitude I come to the summer place, but its beauty shouts at me; and I cannot keep this to myself, bottling up these experiences rather than pouring them out: the intense blue of the sky and puffy white clouds that float by, the heady fragrance of the whispering wind, the music the breakers make as they caress the shore.

Jewett creates the perfect space in this beautifully crafted novel:

“On the brink of the hill stood a little white schoolhouse, much wind-blown and weather-beaten, which was a landmark to seagoing folk; from its door there was a most beautiful view of sea and shore … and I spent many days there quite undisturbed, with the sea-breeze blowing through the small, high windows and swaying the heavy outside shutters to and fro.”

Wandering around this little corner of the world for decades, my eyes rest on sights that I first viewed through child’s eyes, yet seen so differently through the lens of time. This sojourner welcomes each day as a gift and with thanksgiving perceives the natural world as the sublime artistry of the Creator.

“It had been growing gray and cloudy … and a shadow had fallen on the darkening shore. Suddenly, as we looked, a gleam of golden sunshine struck the outer islands, and one of them shone out clear in the light, and revealed itself in a compelling way to our eyes,” wrote Jewett. … It gave a sudden sense of space, for nothing stopped the eye or hedged one in, – that sense of liberty in space and time which great prospects always give.”

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